The longest I've hiked without meeting up with someone not in my party was four days while backpacking in the Rocky Mountains. But, on most day hikes, you will probably encounter other hikers and maybe some bikers or horse riders. Being prepared for these meetings before they happen is a good thing.
Share the Trail
There's a saying: You'll never win a fight with an automobile. The same general rule applies to any situation in which you find yourself - the bigger object wins. On trails, a hiker is about the smallest, slowest object so it is in your best interest to yield to any other mode of transportation you encounter.
A commonly used trail sharing sign is shown here.
The rules are:
- Bikers yield to hikers and horses
- Hikers yield to Horses
As a slow, unprotected hiker, I'm not about to argue the right of way with a horse or biker or ATV or anything else I might meet. I will always politely yield the trail and use the time to take a deep breath and say 'Howdy'.
Here are a bunch of tips to make it easier to share the trail with others. Please remember these and try to follow them and pass them on to new hikers:
- Stay on the trail. Do not cut switchbacks or take shortcuts.
- Stay to the right on wider paths.
- Pass on the left.
- When overtaking someone, let them know you are approaching and will be passing on their left. You may hear a biker call out, "On your Left!" as he comes up from behind. That means you should stay to your right.
- Whenever you stop for a view, a rest, or to yield, move off the trail so it is free for others. If you are selecting the spot for a rest, get off on a used area or a durable surface such as a rock, dirt, or snow. Don't just trample off the trail into a nice soft field of grass and flowers.
- Hikers going uphill are working hard and should be given the right of way over hikers coming downhill. Sometimes uphill hikers will prefer to stop and let you pass coming down so they can get a short break. The uphill hiker should get to make the call.
- Greet people you meet. This makes sure they know you are there and is polite. A simple "Howdy" or "Nice Day" is fine.
- When hiking in a group, yield to single or pair hikers. It's harder for a group to get off the trail so often times singles will stop and let you all pass, but its their call.
- When hiking in a group, hike single file or take no more than half of a wide trail. Make sure everyone in your group understands what actions to take when encountering hikers, bikers, and horses.
When meeting a horse:
- Get off the trail on the downhill side. Horses will tend to bolt uphill when spooked. Also, you waiting on the uphill side looks more like a predator waiting to pounce.
- Quietly greet the rider and ask if you are ok where you are.
- Stand quietly while the horses pass.
- Hike Quietly. Echos are fun, but keep conversations quiet and enjoy the lack of horns, engines, and city noises. There is such a thing as noise pollution. And, in my view, cellphones are the worst form of this pollution.
- Don't leave any markers when hiking off-trail. Cairns, ducks, or little piles of rocks are not needed. If people are hiking cross-country, their compass and map are all they need. Markers tend to concentrate traffic which creates more unmanaged trail scars. Or, markers pop up all over and serve no navigational purpose.
- Read trailhead guidelines. There may be specific rules for the trail you are on.
- Pack It In - Pack It Out. I am always amazed to find litter. It just does not make sense that someone spending time to get out into nature would purposely destroy it. I just don't get it.
- Take a Picture. A pretty rock or a bunch of flowers deserve to remain where they are. We have a need for mementos of our adventures, but picture in your mind what the place would look like if the group before you had taken what you are about to put in your pocket.
- Report vandalism. If there is contact information at the trailhead, tell the managing agency of any destruction or management needs you notice.
On the Soapbox
You will run into some people that feel they have a right to do whatever they want outdoors. You'll see areas where horses were tied to trees, ruining the bark and killing the trees. You'll see wide, braided trails around muddy spots with footprints, hoofprints, and tiretracks all adding to the damage. You'll see washed out gullies created by mountain bikers having fun tearing down the mountain. You'll have a biker fly past you with no warning.
These are the people that make an impression. Keep your eyes open for them for your own safety, but also recognize the many others that are courteous and polite. And, make sure people put you into the courteous and polite category after they've met you on the trail.
Feb 16, 2012 - Frank Will - a.k.a "Trail Dog"
However, it is a good rule for vehicles. Vehicles going uphill should have the right of way on those narrow roads. Stopping, they may never get started again going up hill.
Like your caveat noted, it is up to the hikers who decide who will yield.
Someone going uphill is often concentrating on moving forward and may mostly be only seeing the trail a few feet ahead.
If you're gasping for air, I'd say it might be a good idea to slow down a bit - but that's just me.
After that, I would collapse my umbrella as soon as I saw a horse.
Again, I personally always yield thoughtfully and politely, but it seems as though theoretically the horseback rider should take responsibility for not hurting hikers first. Then, if the hiker is nice, s/he can choose to yield to the horse since it's easier as a person to get off the trail than it is for a horse. But if for some reason the hiker doesn't choose to yield, the horseback rider should at least hold the horse still until the hiker can get by. Does this logic seem reasonable to anyone else?
The point you made is a key reason for humans to give way to horses - we make much less impact. 200pounds distributed on 2 footprints is a lot less disruptive than 1500pounds on 4 hooves that are stomping around instead of standing quietly.
Using your analogy, a hiker that refuses to give way to a horse is about as bright as a pedestrian that refuses to give way to a car.
katrina - keeping a group together is more of a safety note than etiquette, but it is important. Communicating in your group and watching out for each other should be a set expectation before you ever set foot on the trail.
Even a very experienced rider on a very good trail horse will run into hairy situations. If there is a poor person on the way it cannot end well.
I've been stepped on more than once by great horses that got spooked by the most banal such as a strange looking log (really!) - It could break your foot or a toe very easily.
If you know who it is, and it is your property, can't you just tell them they are not welcome on your property? If you have video of them leaving the trail and going into the bush, tell them that and then provide it to the police if you need their assistance.
The other trail users have the responsibility to be in control of their bicycle or their feet. They should be able to stop quickly when passing you since your dog may take a step into their path. As you probably have experienced, this often is not the case but it is the goal.
So, dog on short leash on your left is just fine. If you see someone coming towards you, you can certainly guide your dog to your right side of the trail until the person is passed. I expect he'll enjoy exploring whatever he finds off the trail, too.
Of all the transgressions I encounter along the trail the two most irksome; The unleashed un-nerving and un-welcome "s/he's friendly Dog visits" and the all too audible unyeilding conversation which can be heard from at least 1/2 mi before arriving and continues for the 1/2 mile beyond. I useually stop to allow the nusciance to pass on returning nature to it's own. I remain on stand by all the while for medical emergency, concerned that the offender has not stopped speaking to breath for such a long period they may fail and falter for lack of oxygen! (if only)
People usually give space to special need hikers, but hearing impaired hikers are not that easy to spot by eye.
Most hikers do go into the wilderness to experience it at a slow walking speed and to have all their senses stimulated by the nature around them, including the natural sounds.
Wilderness races are popular and I have no problem with people running on trails. But, they have a responsibility to stay in control, be safe, and not impact other users.
It would make sense to slow down and announce your presence when overtaking someone - something like "passing on your left, please".
As far as listening to music - I think it's unsafe, distracting, and silly. It tunes out the world around you and you may not hear important sounds, such as snakes, animals in the brush, yells for help, or runners overtaking you saying "on your left".
Your point of view that a hiker going downhill does not have a farther view is incorrect. It has nothing to do with 'looking around and not paying attention'. It has to do with the ground angle ahead of you and your eyes tending to watch the trail before you.
As for right of way, even in situations where you think you are in the right, don't push your luck. Pedistrians are in their right to cross a road with a white walk sign, but you still look for cars that don't stop.
Resource impacts should be considered. A group of 2 should stepping off the trail impacts the trail edge twice as much as a single hiker. The impact scales up nicely with larger and larger groups. Also, this fits nicely with horses, since sending a horse off trail would be a huge impact.
Also, coordinating a smaller group or individual's off trail maneuver is also easier and quicker than coordinating a larger group.
Finally, I just don't feel that momentum for the uphill hiker is that strong of an argument and it is difficult to predict what the person traveling in the opposite direction will want to do. I feel like the rules for hiking were transferred from wheeled activities and hooved transportation for nothing more than the convenience of not having another set of rules and don't really take into account new concerns like "Leave No Trace" etiquette.